Industrial Uses| Textiles | Flax
in Ancient Egypt
Flax was cultivated in Mespoptania, Assyria,
and Babylonia, but Egypt was known as the "land of linen." Linen
was woven at least six thousand years ago; fragments of Egyptian
cloth have been dated to 4500 B.C. Tomb models, paintings, and
texts, as well as the writings of Herodotus and Pliny, have supplied
many details about the ancient industry. There were centers for
linen production operated by the state using slave labor.
Facts of Ancient Egyptian Linen:
- Mummification, practiced from the first dynasty (2920-2770
B.C), required mountains of linen for bandage.
- Different grades in cloth were made. The higher one's place on
the social scale, the finer the weave in one's mummy wrappings-
sometimes over 500 threads to an inch. As much as 300 yards of
cloth was used to wrap one mummy.
- Linen was the universal clothing fabric, and some extremely
sheer versions have been recorded in paintings.
- Flax was considered to be a symbol of devine light and purity
and it was the only fiber worn by priests.
- Egypt exported many yards of linen for sails. The flax retted
in the Nile was reputed to be much softer than other kinds, and
sails did not wear out from abrasion as quickly if made from
- Linen cloth was used as payment for labor, as trade-goods and
as gifts and tribute to palace and temple.
- Linen varies in natural color from green to brownish, but the
ancient Egyptians preferred white linen, which was achieved by
bleaching (which was mens' work).
- All classes wore linen clothing. The higher one ranked in class,
the more layers he or she wore. The men of the lowest class rank
wore only the loin cloth, which was worn as underwear by all
classes, men and women.